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  • Randy Pench /

    A cyclist pedals along the newest stretch of a bike path that could eventually encompass Lake Tahoe. The new Nevada segment between Kahle Park and Nevada Beach will ultimately link Round Hill Pines Beach with Stateline.

  • Randy Pench /

    A sign at Nevada Beach State Park gives bikers and walkers the mileage to their destinations. Building a 72-mile path around Lake Tahoe is estimated to cost about $1 million for each mile.

  • Randy Pench /

    Cyclists and walkers are treated to a view of Lake Tahoe at one end of the bike trail at Nevada Beach State Park in South Lake Tahoe on Thursday, June 20, 2013. Officials and bike advocates celebrate the completion of the first mile of a 3.2 mile paved bike trail that will ultimately circumnavigate Lake Tahoe.

Dream of bike path around Lake Tahoe adds another mile

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Thursday, Jun. 27, 2013 - 9:06 am

The idea sounds simple enough: build a bike route circumnavigating Lake Tahoe.

Doing it is another matter.

While the first pieces - getting pedestrians and cyclists away from highway traffic - were built in the 1970s, large gaps remain. Thursday, a contingent of 50 supporters celebrated the latest leg to be completed - a one-mile stretch near the California/Nevada border.

"It's the next magnificent mile in the 72-mile dream," said Joanne Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The completed segment between Kahle Park and Nevada Beach, in Nevada, is the first piece of a 3.2-mile path that will ultimately connect Round Hill Pines Beach with Stateline.

The lake loop has long been a goal of transportation planners, said Alfred Knotts, project manager for the interstate Tahoe Transportation District.

The dream remains a long way off, with only a patchwork of trail pieces covering roughly one-third of the 72-mile Lake Tahoe shoreline.

The latest stretch opened is part of a test project and is envisioned as the start of a 30-mile Nevada Stateline to Stateline Bikeway.

In addition to the lake loop providing recreational and environmental benefits, as it takes people out of their cars, it's important to continuing the region's evolution away from a gambling economy, said Jeff Cowen, a spokesmen for the regional planning agency.

Knotts said many of the easy sections of the trail were built decades ago.

"A lot of those trails on the north and west shore were built in the '70s and '80s," Knotts said. "It's been an ongoing effort ever since Tahoe was identified as a regional treasure."

With the low-hanging fruit tackled, what remains are segments away from population centers and sites that present costly engineering challenges, Knotts said.

For safety reasons and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are strict limitations on how steep the paths can be built, Knotts said.

Geographic challenges include steep slopes, rock outcroppings and gullies.

While the hope is that the vast majority of the route will be dedicated, mixed-use paths away from automotive traffic, some stretches might have to share vehicle roadways, Knotts said.

While many of the missing pieces of the loop are on the less-populated east shore of the lake, challenges and gaps remain to the west. Negotiating a path around Emerald Bay, for instance, will be costly.

The more encompassing bike master plan also looks to add paths that connect population, job and recreation centers that may or may not overlap with the loop route.

The work is slow going and not cheap.

The piece celebrated Thursday cost $1.5 million, including the cost of new parking, restroom and picnic facilities. Knotts said he expects the bike trail construction to average $1 million a mile. The funds are cobbled together from construction mitigation fees and state and federal grants, Knotts said.

Thursday, a steady flow of bikers, runners and other users were on the new paved trail. Among them was Louis Trujillo, 69, of Albuquerque, N.M. He said the path made for an easy ride from Nevada Beach State Park, where he is RV camping, to the casinos.

"This is beautiful," he said, noting that he prefers to stay away from auto traffic.

Garry Bowen, a longtime area cycling advocate, said more resources need to be put into completing the loop.

"We can't build it fast enough," Bowen said.

Knotts said bike trail supporters will have to be patient.

"One mile essentially takes the whole building season," Knotts said. "We are looking at a 20-year plan here. Rome wasn't built in a day."

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

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